At the 2012 North American Governing Body and Temple President meetings in Dallas, Texas, this January, Lilasuka Dasi was announced as the head of the first ever North American regional Child Protection Office.
ISKCON leaders demonstrated that child protection was a priority for them by inviting Lilasuka to speak for one hour at the meetings, where time is at a premium and most presentations last only twenty to thirty minutes.
“The response was positive, supportive, and interested,” says Lilasuka. “I got many invitations by temple leaders to speak to their communities and help them become more proactive about abuse prevention.”
Until now, there have been no official regional Child Protection Offices in ISKCON—only one international ISKCON Central Office for Child Protection. Based in Alachua, Florida, from 1998 until 2009, it was moved to South Africa in 2009 when Champakalata Dasi of Durban assumed the post of director.
Concerned that there was no longer a local presence in North America, the North American GBC and temple presidents met in March 2011 to discuss how to fill the gap, and unanimously agreed to start a regional Child Protection Office that would work in conjunction with the Central Office. During the selection process for a Child Protection Officer that ensued, GBC Executive Director and former International CPO Tamohara Dasa selected Lilasuka Dasi for the post in May 2011.
“I joined ISKCON in 1988 in New Orleans, and was initiated by Bir Krishna Goswami,” she says. “I remember that during my first meeting with him, he told me, ‘Abuse should never be tolerated.’ It was clear, practical and to the point advice that turned out to be the launching point for a lifetime of service.”
In 2004, after doing many types of ISKCON services such as cooking, dressing the Deities, University outreach, and prasadam distribution—a personal favorite of hers—Lilasuka became involved in child protection in the local North Carolina community where she lived.
She worked as a Community Educator with the Orange County Rape Crisis Center, and offered Safe Touch presentations in public schools until 2008. She also supported families and individuals, in both the general public and devotee communities, as they processed the difficult reality of child abuse affecting their lives.
In ISKCON, she gave Safe Touch presentations at temples and festivals such as Kuli Mela in New Vrindaban. She also organized a successful North American Child Protection Conference in 2006 in North Carolina for managers and child protection team members.
In 2009, she moved to the ISKCON community in Alachua, Florida, where she has continued to be active with child protection.
Lilasuka is not the kind of person to sit around waiting. Between May 2011, when she was selected as the North American Child Protection Officer, and January 2012, when the office was officially launched, she has been working hard to set it up effectively.
“Developing a regional Child Protection Office for North America is a big step forward for ISKCON,” she comments. “And I personally hope that this will inspire devotees to come forward and establish regional offices everywhere, all over the world.”
She explains why: “ISKCON members contacting a regional office, as opposed to an international office, will have no difficulties with language barriers or international time zone differences. In addition, I will immediately know the social norms of the location, which is a difficult job when dealing with the entire world. I’ll know what’s expected in the area in terms of law enforcement regarding a case, and what services are available from social services. All these things really help in quickly accessing all the resources that can be put to a child protection concern when it arises.”
The North American Regional Child Protection Office also has its own specific resources, owing to the Alachua, Florida community where it is based. Although the location was chosen for the office only because Lilasuka happened to live there, she says the fact that Alachua is the largest devotee family community in North America is certainly an asset.
“This job can’t be done by just one person,” she explains. “Help is always needed in many ways, whether it’s volunteering in the office, or giving donations, or setting up web services. So being in such a large community is very valuable, because it means that there’s a likelihood of more participation from a greater number of devotees.”
Utilizing all this help, the North American Child Protection Office, under Lilasuka, will focus mainly on abuse prevention. As the old saying goes, prevention is better than cure.
“As a community, we can prevent and stop abuse through practical steps that reduce risk and increase child protection awareness,” she says.
One of these steps will be to implement better screening for any prospective ISKCON temple staff, members or volunteers. The effort, which Lilasuka expects to focus on this year, will take some finesse, in balancing the all-inclusive nature of Sri Chaitanya’s movement with keeping our temples and communities safe.
Another practical step will be education. Lilasuka plans to do community awareness presentations for adults, and Safe Touch presentations for children around the country.
In the longer term, since materials for Good Touch Bad Touch or Speak Up Be Safe—programs by the child protection training organization Child Help—can easily cost $1,500 to buy, and another $1,500 in training on how to use them, Lilasuka plans to write her own educational material for Safe Touch presentations.
“It’s not very practical to expect temples to shell out $3,000 apiece for these materials and training,” she says. “And my goal is to make all these things very practical and easy for our society. So the benefit of writing our own materials will be that they will be easily affordable to temples, and will be translatable into multiple languages without copyright infringement.”
Lilasuka says she feels honored to be able to contribute to Srila Prabhupada’s movement in a way that protects its future—our children—and offers healing for things that have happened in the past.
“My particular take on dealing with abuse is proactive and preventative,” she says. “And I have a lot of energy for that. I’m excited about making a difference, about helping our communities become more healthy and strong.”
Lilasuka invites devotees who would like to contribute to the North American Child Protection Office in some way, or who would like to increase child protection in their own North American community, to contact her at: SafeTemple at yahoo dot com.
To learn more about child protection in ISKCON visit www.ChildProtectionOffice.org
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